In the past week or so, Google has announced an unprecedented change to how they render title tags in their SERP snippets.
Google’s title tag changes, or “Titlegeddon,” is another one of their rampant changes to their search results that has left SEO professionals everywhere dazed and confused about what Google is doing.
Realistically, though—Google has been changing title tags for years. The changing of the title tag is not new.
There is a significant body of evidence showing that they will change the title and meta description tags to something more suitable if they believe that what exists is not the best option for the query.
Google has announced the changes in a brand-new blog post on their developer’s blog.
What, Really, Has Changed?
Google has been rewriting page titles and meta description tags for years. That part is not new. What is new are two new behaviors:
- The scale at which Google is doing this has changed.
- Google now uses at least the first H2 on the page in order to re-generate your title tag.
When SEO professionals create hyper-optimized page titles for Google (and users), this really becomes a slap in the face.
As most SEO professionals can imagine, changing title tags in this manner is something that can lead to significant issues.
First, this can lead to people not clicking on the page title at all if it was optimized for a specific query.
In addition, this can lead to significantly decreased performance in the SERPs as a result because Google is no longer pulling an optimized title tag based on what the SEO professional has optimized.
Instead, Google is pulling a random snippet from the page that may or may not match the intent behind the query.
These mismatches could lead to decreases in ranking because the Google algorithm does not present to the user exactly what they are looking for.
They may be inclined to skip over that result to another result, even though that particular result is something that could be exactly what they needed.
Titles Are No Longer Using Queries
Before, Google would use the user query to produce the title in the SERPs. Now, Google is using other elements on the page and has bumped up title tag changes to a much larger scale, which is why people are noticing them more. Google explained:
Also, while we’ve gone beyond HTML text to create titles for over a decade, our new system is making even more use of such text. In particular, we are making use of text that humans can visually see when they arrive at a web page.
Google explained that for approximately 80% of the titles they are using, they will pull them from the HTML title tag that exists on the page. It’s the other 20% we’re worried about and what Google is focusing on. But they also said don’t stop optimizing for your page titles.
Headers Are Now a More Important Page Element
It sounds like, based on analysis, Google now considers headers important enough to use them in generating your title tags. It’s no longer about the page title that the SEO professional wrote.
Titlegeddon Is Resulting in Significantly Low CTRs Not the Fault of the SEO Professional
This declaration is not opinion or hyperbole. This is literally what’s happening.
According to many SEO professionals, including Lily Ray and Jenny Halasz, the latest Google title tag changes are messing things up with SERP performance metrics considerably.
Most appear to be experiencing significant decreases in performance, including CTR (click-through rates).
Jenny Halasz is reporting tens of thousands of lost clicks as a result of Google’s new changes.
What Google Says
Google’s Danny Sullivan says that SEO professionals should not panic and they don’t need to rewrite all of their title tags just yet.
Using existing best practices for writing good page titles focused on the user is recommended. Danny Sullivan explained to Lily Ray in a discussion on Twitter:
What Can We Expect Next?
Google has created a complaint thread in their forums for anyone experiencing significant issues as a result of this update.
In order to file the complaint, they ask that you include the following:
- The URL of the page,
- The title that’s showing,
- The device type used,
- Any feedback on the title that you can, including a screenshot
John Mueller posted the thread and wrote:
We’d love to get your feedback on how this is working for your website, or for a page that you ran across in your day-to-day usage of Google Search. To make it a bit easier, feel free to add your feedback as a reply to this post. Your feedback here helps us to improve our systems, helping to make Google Search easier for everyone, and is always very welcome.
If you’d like to give us examples, please include the URL of the page, the title shown, the device type used (was it on a mobile phone or a laptop?), and any feedback you have on that title. If you can, including a screenshot makes it easier to recognize too.
If you have general feedback about the search results, not specific to the titles shown, please use the feedback link directly in the search results, or, if it’s about your website, feel free to start a thread here :).
John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google
The Other Major Issue: Fresh Legal Problems Triggering a New Review
Another issue arises for some industries. Some examples are the health industry, which must ensure HIPPA compliance; attorneys who may not want what a heading tag says to be their Google page title; and other legally sensitive industries.
Some industries’ legal departments are solely responsible for reviewing website copy to make sure that it doesn’t violate any laws.
When Google does invasive things like take control of page titles away from SEO professionals, they create legal issues—not only for them but also for the SEO professionals.
As Kristine Schachinger points out, some of these industries can have significant legal issues if their title tags fall out of compliance as a result of what Google has changed.
As always, we will continue to keep you updated on any further significant developments in this rapidly-evolving situation.